Poultry, teamwork helped shape Hilary Griggs, the Journal-World’s 2019 Academic All-Star

photo by: Contributed Photo

Hilary Griggs, the 2019 Journal-World Academic All-Star, is pictured with her turkey, Johnny Vegas, on the day of her junior prom.

Hilary Griggs is willing to rise to meet challenges — or stoop to them, if that’s what the job requires.

The Yale-bound Bishop Seabury Academy senior said she knows it’s a little bit cliche, but her birds have taught her a lot about the value of hard work.

Griggs, 18, said her family first welcomed chickens into her backyard when she was 9 or 10 years old, jumping into the “urban chicken craze.” They started small — about six birds — but she and her younger brothers don’t really like to do things at a bare minimum, she said.

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A glance at her application to the Journal-World’s Academic All-Stars program confirms that indeed, Griggs pours herself into her passions. The long list of distinctions, alongside eloquent essays and a transcript that doesn’t bear even a single A-minus and cumulates into a 4.41 GPA, leaves no question why a panel of judges selected her for the award and $500 scholarship.

A foundation of hard work

Among other accolades, Griggs is a debate team captain, editor-in-chief of her school’s newspaper, National Merit Finalist and prefect — one of five seniors elected by faculty and the student body to fulfill leadership duties at the school and manage morning meetings and lunch.

But before she gets to those duties each day — not to mention her classes, which include honors calculus II, Latin V and wilderness biology — she has to care for her “poultry menagerie.” It comprises approximately 50 birds: bantam chickens, Bourbon Red turkeys, Saxony ducks, Iranian tumbler pigeons, assorted laying hens and, most importantly, her turkey, Johnny Vegas.

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

In this Journal-World file photo from July 30, 2013, Hilary Griggs, of the Kanawaka 4-H Club, holds her chicken before showing it during poultry competition at the Douglas County Fair.

Griggs lost that first flock of six hens to a raccoon, but she and her family — father Burke Griggs, a professor at Washburn University School of Law; mother Emily Hill, a financial adviser with Morgan Stanley; and brothers Lyle Griggs, 16, a sophomore at Seabury, and Hugh Griggs, 12, a sixth grader at the school — rebuilt.

Griggs got active in 4-H at age 11 so she could start showing her chickens, and the family got more and more. Before long, she’d begun to study poultry genetics and “built an enterprise: a breeding operation with an incubator, shrieking roosters in the basement, chicks in the upstairs bathtub, and multiple coop expansions,” she wrote in an essay she shared with the Journal-World.

In the essay, she details some of the trials she’s faced with her birds. Griggs writes about how she and her brothers treated their chickens for bumblefoot, and how birds have succumbed to coccidiosis and flystrike. She spares none of the gory details that would horrify most suburban kids.

But even when the birds are healthy, Griggs said she can’t just wake up 10 minutes before she has to leave for school. And she doesn’t get to skip the tough days — for instance, she’s hauled boiling water out to the coops when there’s a foot of snow on the ground, she said. She’s not complaining, though — it’s “super fun” to have chickens, she said.

photo by: Contributed Photo

Hilary Griggs, the 2019 Journal-World Academic All-Star, is pictured at center with her brothers Lyle Griggs, right, and Hugh Griggs at a 2017 poultry show in Norman, Okla.

Griggs has grown up in the middle of Lawrence, and she acknowledged that the experience has shown her a different Midwestern culture that she probably never would have known otherwise. She’s taken birds on the road to shows in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri and Colorado. Curiosity drove her to learn more about the “applied side of poultry farming,” which she did, through a summer job living in an RV and working at a Mennonite family farm in southeastern Kansas.

“I realized that the mandatory ankle-length skirts help not just with modesty, but also prevent blood from dripping into boots,” Griggs wrote.

Building a team

Griggs said that among the many activities, awards and leadership positions she listed in her All-Star application, she thinks her greatest accomplishment was “building a program that’s now really meaningful to a lot of students, from the ground up.”

By the time she reached her freshman year, there hadn’t been a debate team at Seabury for a few years, Griggs said. So she, a friend, and a math teacher who had a bit of previous experience with debate started one.

That first year, the four team members took third place in four-speaker for Class 3-2-1A at the Kansas State Debate Championship. Now, Griggs said, the team includes about 25 members.

Bishop Seabury Academy sophomores Chloe Akers and Hilary Griggs won the 3-2-1A State Debate Championship in the KSHSAA tournament held in Lyons on Jan. 19-20, 2017. This is the school’s first State Championship in debate. After finishing in third place at the State 4-Speaker competition last year, the Seabury debate team continues to grow and build a tradition of success.

Griggs went on to win the state championship as half of a two-speaker team alongside her partner, Chloe Akers, during their sophomore year. The duo got second place at state in 2018 and 2019, and the school’s four-speaker team (Joshua Meschke, Morgan Orozco, Audrey Nguyen-Hoang and Lyle Griggs) also took second place this year.

“Debate has probably been the most formative activity for me in high school, just teaching me so many things — not just about communication and public speaking, but also about working as a team, and all the other components that go into debating,” Griggs said.

It’s not always about winning, though, and Griggs has faced her share of defeat. She’s played for the school’s varsity basketball team all four years, as a captain her senior year. She was actually voted MVP this year, “but anyone who knows me knows that I’m really not good at basketball at all,” she said, laughing.

The boys team went to the state tournament this year as a No. 5 seed with a 16-4 record. The girls team, on the other hand, hasn’t won a game in the past two years, Griggs said.

“Being on a team like that, not winning and not being successful, was definitely difficult,” Griggs said, “but it also taught me a lot about, again, determination and teamwork, even though it was very frustrating at times.”

Though sometimes staying on the team felt like fulfilling a duty — “there were times this year that we couldn’t play a game because there weren’t enough girls,” she said — Griggs had a lot of fun, and she’s glad she did it.

A few other notable accomplishments Griggs listed in her All-Star application: Starting a writing center at school for her senior service project; studying Japanese history as one of 30 high school students selected nationwide for Stanford University’s Reischauer Scholars Program; and winning the Native American History Prize at the National History Day competition, for her paper on the Chouteau family of Missouri.

Heading to Yale

Griggs was accepted early into Yale University. According to the school’s website, its acceptance rate for the class of 2022 was just 6.3%.

She was also selected to participate in Directed Studies, which “offers a select group of first-year students an intense interdisciplinary introduction to some of the seminal texts of Western civilization,” according to the program website at directedstudies.yale.edu. Griggs explained that it’s a very reading- and writing-heavy program that appeals to her interest in the humanities.

“It’s very rigorous, but it’s right up my alley, and so I’m really excited to be a part of that,” Griggs said.

She’s not quite set on her career path yet, but Griggs said in addition to the humanities, literature, philosophy and political science, she is interested in law.

“I’m very interested in the environmental side of law, and I think that’s becoming even more important with climate change and all that’s going on,” she said.

She said Yale’s graduate Forestry and Environmental Studies program allows undergraduates a lot of opportunities to participate in research and work with their postgraduate peers.

photo by: Contributed Photo

Hilary Griggs, the 2019 Journal-World Academic All-Star, is pictured with one of her roosters, Vito.

Academic All-Star Hilary Griggs

Hilary Griggs, 18, is the Journal-World’s 2019 Academic All-Star. Here are a few of the Bishop Seabury Academy senior’s highlighted accomplishments, as she shared in her application to the scholarship program.

Offices and leadership positions:

• Academic: Debate — founding team member, captain (10, 11, 12); forensics — captain (11, 12); varsity basketball team captain (12); Future Business Leaders of America — secretary (10), president (11), vice president (12); “The Chronicle” student newspaper — copy editor (11), editor-in-chief (12); Model United Nations — delegate (9, 10), vice president of Political Council (11) and secretary general (12) delegate at at Topeka Model UN, and delegate to University of Chicago Model UN (10); Student Senate representative (9)

• Other: Kanwaka 4-H Club — president (three years), vice president (two years); Douglas County 4-H — county council representative (four years), ambassador (four years), youth fair board representative (two years); American Legion Auxiliary Girls State/Girls Nation — Sunflower Girls State city mayor, state party leader and senate parliamentarian; Girls Nation senator representing Kansas

Awards and recognitions:

• Academic: Kansas Honor Scholar; National Merit Finalist; AP Scholar with Distinction (granted to students who receive an average score of at least 3.5 of 4 possible points on all AP Exams taken, and scores of 3 or higher on five or more of these exams); National History Day — first place senior historical paper in Kansas, Native American History Prize at national competition (2016); Stanford University’s Reischauer Scholars Program (10)

• Kansas State Debate tournaments, Class 3-2-1A: third place, 4-speaker (2016); first place, 2-speaker (2017); second place, 2-speaker (2018, 2019)

• Kansas State Speech tournaments, Class 2A: second place, extemporaneous speaking (2018, 2019)

• Other: Poultry Herdsmanship award, 2018 Douglas County Fair; Mallory Tan World Citizen Award (11); Eliot S. Berkley Award from the International Relations Council of Kansas City (11)

Other activities:

Active in Douglas County Democratic Party during 2018 election; worked with League of Women Voters to increase voter registration and involvement; varsity soccer (10, 11, 12); school prefect — helps “run morning meeting, lunch, and fulfills leadership duties in the school” as one of five seniors elected by student body and faculty; started writing center; member of combined newspaper/yearbook staff all four years; chamber choir (9, 10)

Contact Mackenzie Clark

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact schools, health and county reporter Mackenzie Clark:

  • mclark@ljworld.com
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